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Lathrop man: Just say no to Manteca sharing police services
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LATHROP – Lathrop businessman J. Chaka Santos thinks it’s high time for the city to have its own police department.

So much so that he has pledged $5,000 of his own money, if need be, to help fund a study that will explore more cost-effective and efficient alternatives for providing police services to Lathrop. That alternative though could include extending the contract with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office. The second of three alternatives that the study could focus on is for the city to establish its own police force. The third option is for the city to share law enforcement services with a neighboring city such as Manteca or Tracy.

It’s the possibility of the third option being the most cost-effective after the numbers are crunched in the study which Santos referred to in his impassioned speech before the council earlier this week. Santos made sure the police-sharing would not be with Lathrop’s neighbor to the east.

“I’m tired of being a stepchild of Manteca. We need to have our own (police department). I don’t want to be dependent on anybody. We need to take care of our own. I’m not mocking the guys behind me (referring to the deputies present at the council meeting) but we need to have our own,” Santos said.

“We want our police officers to be more involved in the community. This is not a city. This is a community. This is a bedroom community,” he said, which is why he favored having the city determining who will be hired as city police officers and not rotated every three years from the Sheriff’s Office under the provisions of the current contract with the county.

City Manager Cary Keaten said the results of the study, which the council approved by a 4-1 majority vote with Mayor Kristy Sayles dissenting, will come in handy when the city renegotiates its contract with the Sheriff’s Office early next year. The current contract will expire on June 30, 2010.

Police budget for 2009-10 is nearly $5 million – $4,901,336 to be exact – an amount that accounts for 33 percent of the city’s operating budget or one-third slice of the city’s spending pie. That pays for a police staff of 31 full-time positions which includes 27 sworn officers and four non-sworn employees who man the leased police offices on Seventh Street in Historic Old Lathrop.

In contrast, former two-time mayor Bennie Gatto who was one of the original City Council elected, recalled that the first contract with the Sheriff’s Office signed soon after incorporation in July of 1989 was $800,000.

Those in favor of the study say they approve of it not because they are not happy with the Sheriff’s Office police services but would like to see if there’s a better deal out there, including establishing Lathrop’s own police department.

Keaten also explained that the time is ripe for such a study since the city has never had a comparative analysis of police-services alternative options since it inked a contract with the county 20 years ago.

This issue also comes as the city wrestles with a $2.5 million current budget deficit, with about a $1 million that needs to be bridged. Currently, the city is in talks with the Sheriff’s Office to find ways to save money and solve this year’s deficit. Council members though have made it known that the city’s safety is their number one priority.

To date, there has been no discussion about laying off any police officers. However, Police Services was included in the across-the-board furloughs which closed city offices on Fridays which translated to 10 percent pay cuts among all city employees. Earlier in May, the city eliminated 15 positions including that of the Community Development Director in the continuing effort to get rid of the budget deficit.

The ongoing talks between the city and Sheriff’s Office include the determination as to which police services should be continued or discontinued.